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House of Lords

Tuesday, 3rd October 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

The Euro: Tests for Joining

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they rely only on economic tests in deciding whether to apply for membership of the euro.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the determining factor as to whether Britain joins a single currency is the national economic interest and whether the economic case for joining is clear and unambiguous. The Treasury's five economic tests define whether a clear and unambiguous case can be made.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the past few days the Governor of the Bank of England has said that joining the euro is primarily a political, not an economic question? The Danish people rejected joining the euro on political grounds. If the Prime Minister believes that the five economic tests are a daily topic of conversation in the drawing rooms of this country and that it is because of an anxiety that they are not met that the British people are opposed to joining the euro, as they clearly are, is he not as out of touch on this issue as he was on the fuel crisis?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, neither the Prime Minister nor I claim to be experts on the subjects of conversation in the drawing rooms of this country. As to the Governor of the Bank of England, as the noble Lord knows, the Bank is independent.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, what stupider policy could there be than ruling out joining the euro for five years, as the Conservatives suggest?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we need to wait until the end of the week before we know what the Conservative Party's policy on the euro this week will be. I am told that there are those who believe that it should be ruled out for considerably longer than five years and they have some money behind them.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the five tests can be answered only as matters of opinion either way? They are not even faintly objective.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not know what is wrong with matters of opinion. We can agree that they are matters of judgment rather than of absolute certainty.

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Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while the economic factors involved in joining the euro are very important, if we were to join there would also be a loss of sovereignty for this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's support for the Government's position. We think that the economic conditions are very important. That was my original answer to the Question. Of course we acknowledge that there are issues of sovereignty. We have said that clearly. There is a pooling of sovereignty involved in a shared currency.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in addition to the existing five tests set by the Chancellor, there is a sixth missing test: an exchange rate target? Will he agree that before the Government commit the country to entering the euro, they should express their view on what the exchange rate should be?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, the Government have consistently resisted the pressure from the Liberal Democrats and others to set exchange rate targets that could conflict with our other economic targets.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I wish that my noble friend would come clean on the issue. It is not primarily about economic matters; it is a political and constitutional issue. Everyone in Europe other than Ministers of this Government accepts that. If it is not a major constitutional issue, why are the Government, for only the second time in British history, to have a national referendum on it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not question my noble friend's integrity in his views and I wish that he would not use phrases such as "come clean" when he talks about what I have said. The Government are right to say that, of the issues involved in the single currency, those that will determine the view that they express to Parliament and then to the British people in a referendum are primarily economic ones.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister up to date in his exposition of the Government's thinking on the matter? I understand that the Prime Minister will say in his forthcoming speech in Warsaw that it is all part of a wider political development and that we must learn lessons from the Danish referendum, which was all about politics and not about economics at all. Is that not a wiser view and should not the Minister amend his answer after the Prime Minister's speech in Warsaw on Thursday?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is welcome to ask me that question after the Prime Minister has spoken in Warsaw. As I have frequently said when I am questioned on the subject, if

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I say anything new, I apologise, because that is not my intention. The Government's position today, Tuesday 3rd October, is as set out in the Chancellor's Statement of October 1997 and the Prime Minister's Statement of February 1999. The noble Lord clearly knows more than I do about what the Prime Minister will say in Warsaw on Thursday--and good luck to him.

Lord Peston: My Lords, is it not patently obvious that the single currency is an economic phenomenon and that it therefore follows as night follows day that the relevant criteria are its economic effects, particularly on this country? The Government's position is completely sound, but the Opposition's is puzzling. They seem unable to see anything but politics these days.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not object to seeing politics in any of those issues. My noble friend is, of course, right in saying that fundamentally this is an economic issue; it is not one of a "United States of Europe" or of the other matters that conspiracy theorists would wish us to consider. However, certainly it is true that some people wish to see way beyond a single currency to other matters which are not, as I understand it, the subject of this Question.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, surely, as night follows day, the people of this country will not behave all that differently from the people of Denmark in relation to this matter. The discussion in Denmark was about the effect of having a common interest rate which might not suit Denmark. Surely the people of this country are not so daft as to believe the Government.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, agrees with my noble friend Lord Peston that night is going to follow day. That at least is a measure of agreement which is worth while. Of course, the people of Denmark are entirely entitled to their own opinion. However, I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware that the Danish krone has in fact shadowed the deutschmark, and therefore the euro, for a considerable number of years?

Disability Rights Commission: Human Rights Cases

2.43 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to grant powers to the Disability Rights Commission to assist individuals seeking to take cases related to disability under the Human Rights Act 1998, as recommended by the Disability Rights Task Force (recommendation 10.13).

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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission recently wrote to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment asking for the commission's powers to be extended to enable it to assist disabled people to enforce their convention rights. The Government are considering that request and we hope to be able to respond to the commission by the end of November.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. However, will she bear in mind that the Human Rights Act concerns essential rights for disabled people which are outside the scope of the Disability Rights Commission Act and, in particular, that Articles 2, 3, 5, 8 and 12 of the European convention are of crucial importance to disabled people, yet they will not obtain the benefit of them until the Government act? Therefore, will my noble friend agree that disabled people need representation effectively to ensure that their rights are observed? As the Secretary of State already has the power to extend that remit, why does he not do so?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course the Government will take into account what my noble friend has just said in considering what, I believe, is an important matter. However, as I said, we are actively considering the request from the chairman of the DRC and we shall, I hope, be able to respond by the end of November. However, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, we need to consider a range of quite complex questions, such as consistency with the other equality commissions, and the scope of any powers that may be given and how those will operate in practice.


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